Dr. Motard Noar
The Odyssey and Domineering Females
, particularly during the ending of the epic, Homer challenges the archetype of male dominance by essentially making Odysseus powerless, and instead, while it is often disguised, gives the female characters all the power and control. This is seen most obviously with Athena who saves Odysseus’ life countless times, and also with Penelope who controls not only her husband but also several suitors. In addition, Circe, Calypso, and Arete hold power over Odysseus as well as other men in The Odyssey
. These strong female characters
exercise emotional, as well as physical control over their male counterparts, and oftentimes use their feminine qualities to disguise their true motives. In fact, the female characters had been in control long before the end of The Odyssey
subtly influenced the plotline throughout the entire epic. This is particularly noticeable in the Telemachiad, with Penelopes treatment of the suitors. She tells the suitors that once she has completed weaving a shroud for Odysseus’ father, she will remarry however the text states that, “everyday she wove on the great loom but every night by torchlight she unwove it” (2:112113).
Despite her subordinate role as a woman, Penelope puts herself in charge of her own fate. Penelope weaves to determine her identity and her fate, it is metaphorically a representation of her manipulation of the suitors, and of her wavering mindset. She clutches onto the idea that Odysseus will return home to Ithaca, but yet she is not confident enough to let the suitors slip
away from her grasp. The concept of weaving connects to Helen of Troy who wove the events of the trojan war, depicting her identity, and Athena who is in fact the goddess of weaving. In this case, Penelope is able to disguise her unfinished shroud as a womanly weakness, when actually “...the weaving represents female cunning and empowerment. Like Circe and Helena, Penelope commands and controls her enchanted flock” ( Van Oenen, 16). Through this simple deceitful act of weaving and unweaving the shroud, Penelope gains the upper hand, “She is not victimized by the suitors, nor is she pining away for Odysseus. She is in a position of power and control.” (Clayton, 106). Though she remains loyal to her husband, she asserts her independence, refusing to allow her every action to be driven by the absence of her husband. Yet she is not intimidated by the suitors forceful and aggressive attempts to win over her hand in marriage. Although, she does allows herself to indulge in the attention of the suitors without committing infidelity, that is. And while her willingness to seduce and entice the suitors is often viewed as a promiscuous and unfavorable quality, Penelope succumbing to the flirtations of the suitors still do not even compare to the adultery committed by Odysseus. Twenty years they spent apart from one another, and obviously there was temptation to pursue other people.
Odysseus gave into the temptation several times with Circe and especially Calypso with whom he had an affair with for seven years. In Book V of The Odyssey
, Calypso addresses the
double standards that exist between men and women in reference to polygamous love when she says, “ And so when Demeter the graceful one with lovely braids gave way to her passion and made with Iason, bedding down in a furrow plowed three times Zeus got wind of it soon enough, I’d say, and blasted the man to death with flashing bulbs” (5: 138142). Essentially
Calypso is saying that the female goddesses are castigated and shamed when they pursue mortal men, while the gods are can have sexual relations with mortal women without any negative consequences. Even when the relations between a god and mortal woman can be construed as rape, the gods do not receive any type of punishment or poor reputation. Thus